Interactivity: The Interactive Experience review
Comparisons are inevitable when it comes to evaluating games, particularly when the similarities between them stand out more than most. That will certainly be true of Interactivity: The Interactive Experience by Aetheric Games, a short yet engaging meta puzzle game narrated by a disembodied voice, which should seem very familiar to those who have experienced The Stanley Parable. I haven’t personally tried Davey Wreden’s 2013 indie classic so it wasn’t on my mind as I played, but it almost surely will for those who have. While the likenesses between them are obvious and it might be tempting to write it off as derivative, what’s most important is that Interactivity is a short but fun time all on its own.
The story sees you, the first-person player, enter an exhibition meant to educate you through different interactive set pieces about various elements video games are known for, such as switches, levers, valves, keypads, and of course, the holy grail of all interactive devices: the button. The writing is comical – at first – as you listen to numerous voice-overs by the game’s creator, Nick Bell, who teaches you about the history of each device with witty comments thrown in for good measure.
While it starts off innocently enough, the closer you get to the main attraction, the more the tone shifts as the narrator reminds you to “Not. Touch. The. Button.” This, naturally, makes doing just that all the more tantalizing a prospect. It soon becomes clear that something strange is going on in this unusual museum, as a few scattered papers from the exhibit’s creator detail a descent into madness as he says, “I cannot beat the game. With every press, the button beats me.” Following in his footsteps, it’s now entirely up to you if you want to ignore the seductive call of the button and simply exit when you’re done, or break away from the streamlined tour and find a way to push that damn thing and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
In terms of gameplay, Interactivity doesn’t involve too much in the way of controls outside of using the WASD keys to move and the mouse to look around and interact. Advancing is mostly straightforward as you move from room to room the way the tour dictates, though you’ll have to diverge from the main path if you want to reach the true heart of the game. Once you do it’s back to a linear progression, not changing too much even during subsequent playthroughs.
There’s only really one central puzzle per room, surrounded by hints for solving it. Each room focuses on a different common video game element. The tasks themselves can range from simply pulling down four levers in succession to solving a more complex keypad problem, though nothing is too difficult if you take your time and interact with every part of the display for clues.
These are just teasers, however, as the true conundrum is figuring out how to push that giant-sized, fenced-off button that your character can’t reach normally, the solution to which requires thinking outside the box. This too will end the game, though not for good as you can then replay it four more times as the tour begins again and things are either subtly or drastically changed (including the puzzles to keep you on your toes) as you further explore the meta-story about what this exhibit really represents.
The small handful of optional written letters are so expertly hidden that I didn’t find them on my own, but they’re worth seeking out as they shed additional light on the creator’s motivation and what the exhibit means to him, which parallels Interactivity’s own designer giving his thoughts on why he made this game.
The overall presentation really adds to the experience. While it starts out rather deceptively generic, looking like a lot of real-life exhibits do with its wide open spaces and shiny marble floor, as the story continues the use of lighting, a likable yet progressively annoyed performance by the narrator, and an enjoyable yet understated atmospheric soundtrack composed by Miles Tilmann combine to establish an unsettling mood that keeps changing with every playthrough right up to the end of the fifth and final go, by which time things are genuinely unnerving.
What’s more disquieting is that the music only starts after your first time through, which further helps shift the experience as the true narrative begins to emerge beyond that of just an informational tour about interactivity. The game is also good at making you feel isolated. As the exhibit physically deteriorates more and more with each successive playthrough, the less the narrator has to say, which is surprisingly effective. Though you might find his talkativeness annoying early on, his increasing silence is a good example of something being taken away that you might not realize you subconsciously appreciated and took for granted until it's gone. It never quite falls into horror game territory, but it certainly does its job in representing a fall from innocence (and possibly sanity) the more you push the button.
The whole experience can be completed in under an hour, maybe a little more if you’re getting all the collectibles such as the letters and secret garden gnomes, and that includes all five different playthroughs. While that doesn’t sound like much, it’s better for a game to be concise and do exactly what it wants rather than add filler to make it longer than it needs to be, and the short length here is reflected in its budget price. Ultimately, Interactivity: The Interactive Experience is a fun experiment that may take its cue from other meta-narrative adventures that came before it, but it’s engaging while it lasts and has a style of its own that makes it worth your time. So go on, if you dare: press that purchase button.
Interactivity is a short but well-executed meta-story adventure that stands on the shoulders of games like The Stanley Parable but has enough of its own identity to make it worth checking out.
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